Why we love Ello (and the truth about advertising on Facebook)

by Parent Co. June 25, 2015

painting of a child and person looking a black circle that is smiling

We love Ello, the ad-free social network defined by excellent design and fierce, user-centered values:
  • Ello is ad-free, forever. That's legally built into Ello’s charter.
  • Ello will never sell user data to third parties. That's also built into Ello’s charter.
  • Ello's users can opt out of tracking completely.
Ello: Control from Ello on Vimeo.

At Parent Co, we think about these issues literally every day.

After all, our service Notabli is designed around saving, sharing, and securing the most sacred data - childhood moments. Because of this, we're obsessed with privacy. Like Ello, our users own and control their content. People can delete their accounts at will, and they can download everything they've ever saved in Notabli in full resolution for free.

Facebook vs. Ello

Even though Ello has a fewer users than Facebook (everyone does), we think it's a better place to share our content.
  • Ello’s timelines are shown simply in chronological order. Ello doesn't game, interrupt or restructure the timeline.
  • We don’t have to pay to boost posts for people to see them.
  • On Ello, our content stands out and looks great. Unlike Facebook, it isn't sandwiched between ads, admin bars, alerts, and dozens of random icons.
Facebook had a $230 billion insight: that a network based on human connections and self-promotion would be one of the most powerful advertising platforms ever. Some say this makes Facebook "evil." I don't believe this (yet - though Scrapbook is getting there). Like many of the internet's biggest companies, Facebook is a public, profit-driven company that hordes user data to sell targeted advertising. To sell ever more ads, Facebook needs to collect ever more personal data. Simply by tracking what you share and click with the "Like" button, Facebook currently:
  • knows who your friends and family are
  • knows your politics and causes
  • knows your marital status
  • knows if you’re a parent
  • knows what you look like, based on 97% accurate facial recognition software
  • knows who you talk to most often
  • knows where you live
  • knows where you are right now, in some cases
  • knows how much time you spend on your computer, smartphone or other devices
  • can read your private posts and messages
Facebook doesn't fully explain how it shares that information with advertisers. It seems obvious that "there's no such thing as privacy from Facebook when you’re on Facebook." But what’s less obvious is that Facebook also tracks you around the web via cookies and the Facebook login. Indeed, Facebook seems to want to own part of everything you do on the Internet. Your data is Facebook’s asset - not yours. You can download an archive of your posts and photos (with their resolution and size permanently degraded), but otherwise Facebook effectively owns what you share on their network.

Limits of Relying on Facebook

As a brand, there are serious downsides and inconsistencies to relying on Facebook to build an authentic audience. If Facebook decides it doesn't like something we publish on our company page, it can delete it, cutting us off from thousands of readers. This hasn't happened to us yet, but we have been blocked from paying to boost posts (the only way for most of our followers to see them) because Facebook didn't approve language or images. For example, Facebook didn't allow us to boost a post with a self-portrait by Gene Yang from this interview. Ello

Advertising on Facebook

The only thing we promote or "advertise" on Parent.co is Notabli, which is our own product. This spares us from the relentless (and often pointless) web traffic goals typically required by other sites. Still, we want to reach people - we want grow an authentic audience that reads, debates, and shares what we publish. For the moment, and despite the problems mentioned above, Facebook remains an important outlet for sharing our content with a large audience. Like most websites, Facebook is the biggest single source of traffic to Parent.co. Most of this traffic comes when other people or brands share links from our site to their Facebook walls. However, the links we post on our page are also important sources of traffic to Parent.co. The only reliable way to get our content in front of people on Facebook is to pay to "boost" our posts, which we occasionally do. The difference in views between a boosted vs. non-boosted post is massive. Every publisher deals with this issue. Beyond boosting posts, sometimes we advertise on Facebook. Personally, I don’t view Facebook's current ad targeting platform as nefarious. No advertiser on Facebook can currently see any target's exact identity, including their name or address. Instead, we see a pattern of affiliations, connections and interests. However, even if advertising on Facebook isn't evil, it creates a bad feeling and degrades the experience of "social" connection. As the New York Times recently noted "ad-based businesses distort our online interactions." And, "ad-based financing means that the companies have an interest in manipulating our attention on behalf of advertisers, instead of letting us connect as we wish." "Connecting as we wish" is all Parent Co wants to do on social media. Share our ideas, hear new ones, and engage in conversation. On the surface, Facebook offers so much. One day it might become simpler and more transparent. But for now it's broken; broken as a true social medium, and broken as a reliable publishing tool for brands. We will continue to post to Facebook because that's where many of our readers spend their Internet time. But we're focused on rapidly growing our community on Ello, even as Ello itself continues to grow rapidly. In time, as more and more people understand the value of privacy and unfiltered connection, and as Ello adds features and tools, we expect Ello will become our primary social network. We won't miss the alternative. Join Parent.co at Ello.co/parentco Read our interview about parenthood and creative life with Ello founder Paul Budnitz and his wife Sa.


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